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Recently the memory of a fruit my grandmother and uncle grew in South Central Tennessee popped unexpectedly into my mind, rather surprising, since I hadn’t thought of it since I was a young girl. Once the memories surfaced, however, I could see the fruits as well as if I were holding one in my hand and the delightful fragrance, which I hadn’t smelled since my childhood, haunted me until I began to research the fruit to first, determine what it was I was remembering, and to see whether I could find seeds to grow some.
The fruit I remembered, is actually a melon, albeit a very small and unusual one. Descriptions I found in long shelved horticultural books, written decades before publishers had the ability to include a glossy color photograph with the articles, are exactly as I remembered.
It’s appearance is beautiful, the hue being bright glossy red, with stripes of yellow running round, like the meridian lines on a globe. – Gosse.
For those non-history oriented readers, note, that regarding fruit, vegetable, or, in this case melons, “glossy red”, is actually more rust or maroon colored than bright red. Another writer termed it, “mottled with yellow and brown”, while some saw it as, “beautifully striped with red and gold”. – Bulletin, South Dakota & Journal Horticulture, Oct. 16, 1866.
The melon is of ancient origins and through the years has had several names. It has fallen in and out of favor through the decades as have many other garden varieties.
This miniature melon is, I believe, of very ancient date, and is like an old coat or old song—destined to become quite in fashion again”. – Country Gentleman. 1867.
It was commonly called the Queen Anne’s Pocket Melon, however, in the American South it was more often called the vegetable pomegranate, later shortened to pomegranate. Even later, that was corrupted into, “plum granny”, by those whose speech patterns hail from the Appalachians.
When I asked my mother what I was remembering, I told her I thought I remembered it by that name, but that a pomegranate grew on a tree and looked nothing like what I remembered. Early nineteenth century writers shared similar notations.
All through the South these melons are known as ‘pomgranates,’ though they are in every way unlike the tree pomegranate…the same name has also accompanied them into the North and West, as far as Missouri and Kansas at least. – Gardener’s Chronicle. 1894.
When first written of in the U.S., it appears to have come with the Europeans, especially the French who knew it as melon Dudaim where it was described in Les Plantes Potagères. – Report. NY.
Other French writers referred to it as Concombre Dudaim, Melon de senteur, Citrouille odorante, melon des Canaries, Pomme de Brahms, and Pomme de Grenade. – Gardener’s Chronicle. 1894.
The French grew it so commonly, that a Frenchman, Monsieur Loisel of Paris, had devised a system of growing it whereby soil was earthed up some five feet across in each direction, and two feet high. A hole was made in the center of the mound and filled with, “well-rotted manure or compost”, after which the mound was covered with about six inches of soil. Having been so prepared in the spring, the mound was then left until the next May when plants were set out in the top of the mound. As the vines grew, they ran down the earth mound in every direction, each producing a quantity of melons. Monsieur Loisel penned a valuable treatise on melon culture which was used quite extensively. – Floral World.
John Perkins did much to promote the culture of the melons after they had fallen somewhat out of favor in the wake of discovering new exceptionally sweet varieties in the early 19th century. Perkins published instructions for growing them in pots for those who so chose.
Everyone must be grateful to Mr. Perkins for drawing attention to that valuable but too-little known Queen Anne’s Pocket Melon. – Penny Cyclopaedia.
The melons had enjoyed a resurgence in interest by the 1870’s when it was reported that having “once [been held] in high repute, was so nearly extinct that a few seeds only were saved by accident”. Report. Washington.
Opinions differed as to the importance of the melons for eating, although all who had ever encountered one commented on the welcome fragrance they imparted. An account published in 1862 called it more pretty than useful, the fragrance permeating a room where some four or five might be placed in a dish. – Journal Horticulture.
Because the melons lacked sweetness compared to watermelon and cantaloupe, some suggested serving it prepared with sugar and wine to impart the sweetness and flavor desired, or to use it for making preserves and stuffed mangoes, “a name no more appropriate to it than pomegranate or mock orange”. – Annual Report. Missouri.
A mango was any vegetable such as cucumbers and peppers which were filled with spices and other items, tied shut, and immersed in a vinegar solution, but that will have to wait for another day.
To make jelly from the melons: “Select fruit that has not become too ripe; peel, cut into quarters; cook till soft, then strain juice from pulp. To 1 quart of juice, add an equal quantity of sugar, then boil until thick – the same as any jelly. Sugar may be added to the pulp and boiled to make pomegranate butter”. – Bulletin. S. Dakota.
Many writers wrote, as did the Universal Cyclopaedia, (1900) that they were much appreciated for perfuming rooms or wardrobes. This was, after all, before modern room fresheners.
A most delightful account was penned by a British man who lived for a period of time in Alabama in the 1850’s. Perhaps his statement that they were not eatable was personal choice, as many in this region did eat them.
Smell-Lemon…The smell is very fragrant, and hence they are often placed on ladies work-tables; they are not eatable, and I know of no other good qualities that they possess other than their beauty and perfume. Children are fond of carrying them in their pockets, and tossing them about as play things. I have seen what I suppose to be the same species in some of the London shops, particularly at a fruiterer’s in the Poultry, where it is ticketed as Queen Anne’s Pocket Melon. – Gosse. 1859.
I eagerly anticipate harvesting my first ripe melons, whatever you prefer to call them, and reliving my childhood memories of them.
Bibliography & Notes:
Gosse, Philip Henry. Letters From Alabama. 1859. London.
The Floral World and Garden Guide. Volume 3. March 1860. London.
The Penny Cyclopaedia of the Society for the Diffusion of Useful Knowledge. Vol. 8. London. 1837.
Journal of Horticulture. Cottage Gardener and Country Gentleman. Vol. 11. Oct. 16, 1866.
Ibid. Vol. 2. March 4, 1862.
Gardening Chronicle. July 14, 1894. As written by William Trelease in the fifth Annual Report of the Missouri Botanical Gardenon April 24, 1894.
Universal Cyclopaedia. 1900. NY.
Country Gentleman. Vol. 30. July 18, 1867. Albany, NY.
Report. U.S. Department of Agriculture. 1877. Washington, Govt. Printing Office.
Annual Report. Board of Control of New York Agricultural Experiment Station. 1888. Albany.
Bulletin. South Dakota Experiment Station. July 1899. Sioux Falls, South Dakota. Bulletin 65.